Sunday, January 08, 2006

Lucky 13!

I love the number thirteen. This is the end of my thirteenth week in Korea! That means 1/4 of a year, for those who'd like a fraction.

As you know if you've been reading this blog, a Canadian co-teacher left this week, having completed his year. That puts the Englishman at between seven and a half and eight months, while the Canadian marrieds are approaching their sixth. And me, I hit three months on Tuesday.

Are we obsessed with marking the timeline? You could say so. But that's our life at Ding Ding Dang. We love it when the days and weeks fly by, bringing us to another evening or weekend when we can enjoy ourselves, rejuvenate, and clear our minds of the nonsense that so often is our working week. With the co-workers spread out across the year it helps to chart the progress of others. You make it through one's countdown, then another, and another, and then suddenly it's your own and you're on your way to being free of this job!

In fact. now that I'm at this point, I see my time here as the limited thing it is and I have to start hustling to make sure I allow time for all the things I want to cram in this year: places I want to visit, things I want to learn, a bit more Korean vocabulary, etc. I feel like I have all the time in the world left, but I see how time flies.

I was so disgusted with Ding Ding Dang on Tuesday after the "no blacks need apply" discussion, and I went home to consider whether or not I would walk away in protest. It was definitely food for thought. Which is good, as that's the only kind of food I tend to get around here. Last count I've lost 19 pounds. I would still have to lose about 10 more to reach the weight I dropped to in C___, but I started out weighing less there, and that weight loss was much healthier! That was due to eating fresh foods; nary a preservative passed these lips that summer! Plus we swam and walked and danced a lot. I was positively glowing when I came back to the U.S. in 1997, figuratively and literally: tan, relaxed, happy. Here I might waste away. Don't worry, that's probably an exaggeration. I figure I'll give it until 40 pounds lost, then I'm out of here. No matter where I am in the timeline.

I had just reached such a great place mentally with this whole gig, as well as the direction life is heading, and then Tuesday happened. Well, I thought long and hard, and slept on it. Sleeping on it is really such a great problem-solver. Maybe I will teach my level nine classes the phrase "sleep on it" this week. I woke up Wednesday morning all kinds of inspired that I would commence a plan of education to combat racism, slowly working it into each class. Also, it dawned on me that MLK day is right around the corner. Time for another "American Holiday" lesson! Then, in February comes Black History Month. I felt better as I started to think about things I could teach my students. They say that Korea today resembles the U.S.A. in the 1950s in many ways in terms of its conservatism. It sure feels true in this respect.

Then, I was happy to see that a bunch of blog readers had commented along those same lines. I'd forgotten about Langston Hughes' book. Any and all children's book ideas promoting the novel concept that humans should not be judged on their skin color are welcome!

On Wednesday night I gave my first MLK "lesson," to the banker I tutor in my one-on-one conversation class. Because of the lack of replacement teacher for Canadian Jon, Ding Ding Dang is sending my banker student on hiatus for two weeks so I can cover a class at that time on MWF evenings, which is terribly annoying. It also means that Wednesday was my last day to teach him for who knows how long, so I talked about MLK then.

We had a good conversation. He of course knew who Martin Luther King Jr was. I asked him if most Korean children would know, and he thought teenagers, yes, but not elementary school children. He knew about the civil rights movement in the U.S. but was not familiar with the "I have a dream" speech. I explained, summarized, and quoted some of it to him. Yeah, guess what I'm planning to photocopy next week for my classes, level nine on up!

This also led my banker man and me to the vocabulary word "assassinate." (and "assassination") After explaining it I asked him if he can tell me of a famous Korean figure who was assassinated. He proceeded to tell me about Kim Gu, a beloved Korean patriot who struggled for independence from Japanese occupation in the first half of the twentieth century. Kim Gu was the last president of the Provisional Government of Korea and the leader of the Korean Independence Party. When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies in 1945 and the United States and Russia started establishing their separate Korean governments in the South and in the North, Kim Gu would not participate in either effort. In fact, he went to Pyongyang to attempt reunification talks with Kim Il-sung!

In 1948 the Republic of Korea was established (you may know it as "South Korea" but those of you who've sent me snail mail have written the official title) and Kim lost the election for first president of the Republic to Syngman Rhee. In 1949 Kim was assassinated, and there is some belief that a right-wing conspiracy was to blame (don't know how vast the conspiracy was) and that Rhee himself may have been involved.

Today, Kim is revered by Koreans and they wish that he had become the first president of the Republic of Korea, whereas Syngman Rhee (or, Rhee Syngman as he is properly called here) was favored to lead Korea by - who else? - the U.S. And every good X-Files viewer knows what can happen to those who get in the way of Uncle Sam's plans.

I thought it was wonderful that my cultural exchange education led to me being educated about this important piece of Korean history, which I don't recall learning in any of my social studies classes! I think U.S. students know who Syngman Rhee is and that's about it. Nor did I learn about Kim Gu on M*A*S*H.

Wow, am I craving M*A*S*H. Listen, does anyone have any suggestions about how to get a tape out of my VCR? Our crappy television, just one of the many crappy furnishings in our apartment, is a TV with built-in VCR. However, the videotape stuck in it refuses to budge. The only thing I haven't done is stick in a long knife blade to try to pry it out. Visions of electrocution dance in my head. Furthermore, I can't find a spot on the back of the television where I can put the cable to hook up another VCR. Can that be possible? That a TV with built-in VCR doesn't have a way to hook up an additional VCR? I haven't been too worried about it because I don't really have a lot of spare time for TV/movie watching anyway.

In other news, I did benefit in one way from Canadian Jon's departure - and this will leave me even less time for video viewing. I bought Jon's used desktop computer for $100. I don't have cable Internet hooked up at the house yet, so I'm still visiting PC rooms this weekend, but I can write away to my heart's content at home now and access everything on my floppy disks. Hurrah! The danger is that I will disappear into my room and live the life of a solitary writer and lose interest in all else. Sometimes in Boston if I had a weekday off (and therefore access to a computer and the house to myself) I would sit for hours writing and then look up to see it was four p.m. or something and I hadn't showered yet. Or I'd missed a totally nice day outside.

Man, I wish I could make my living as a writer full-time and then take days off from that. Some day? I am on the path to pay off my debt, the main obstacle to my exiting the full-time work force. But I also am craving the intellectual stimulation of school so unbelievably much that I can't imagine not returning this fall or next fall at the latest. Which means - more debt, less full-time writing.

"If God asked me what was my wish, I would reply unhesitatingly, 'Korean independence.'
If He asked me what was my next wish, I would again answer, 'Our nation's independence.'
If He asked me the same question for the third time, I would reply in an even louder voice,
'My wish is our Great Korean Nation's Complete Independence.'"

-- Kim Gu, in his autobiography, Journal of Baekbeom

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